May 31, 2013

African Lions at Risk

When we traveled to Africa to conduct research for Travels with Gannon & Wyatt Botswana, we came across lions everyday in the Okavango Delta — an old, distinguished male covered in scares from a lifetime of battles, a band of brothers lying around in the shade, a mother resting while and her cubs wrestled nearby, a solo male feasting on a cape buffalo.

It was breathtaking to see these magnificent creatures in the wild. Literally, I couldn’t breathe the first time we encountered a pride of lions at close distance. Judging by all the lions we came across in Botswana, I would have guessed the species was doing just fine.

Africa-Lion Close Up_Web

Truth is, lions are in trouble. According to National Geographic, the lion population in Africa has plummeted from over 100,000 in the 1960s to around 30,000 today. That’s a loss of approximately two-thirds of the total lion population in just fifty years!

The main threat to lions is loss of habitat due to human population growth. In other words, when people move into lion habitats many of the lions are forced out or killed. Other serious threats include poaching and trophy hunting.

It seems pretty clear: humans pose the biggest threat to this great species. That being the case, it’s up to us to save this magnificent creature. Why save lions, some may ask? There are many reasons. As predators, lions play a key roll in the overall health of the ecosystem. They help keep populations of grazing animals and mid-size carnivores in check. Larger populations of these animals could devastate the environment. Lions are also important to tourism, which contributes significantly to the overall economy of many African nations. And let’s be honest, lions are just plain awesome! A lion is an iconic creature, a symbol of strength and power, the king of beasts! Just think of all the classic stories you’ve read or been told over the years that involve a lion. Fact is, a world without lions is almost unimaginable.

If you want to learn more about helping lions and other big cat species, check out National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative. I just made a donation myself. Every little bit helps!

Keith Hemstreet